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by Sue Fliess

One of the most popular questions I get from people is, “What inspired you to write this book?” I always hesitate a little because I wish I could say that everything I’ve produced has been a product of sublime inspiration. The truth is, many times, the end product has strayed quite a bit from the original inspired idea. That’s not a bad thing. It’s called editing. And often those edits lead you down unexplored, unexpected, paths to the story that will actually appeal to readers. What I’m saying is, it’s all good. It’s just not always what your original intention was.

Tara has invited me to elaborate here on one such project, RACE!, which COMES OUT TODAY! and of which I’m very excited—and also very proud. Thanks, Tara! As short as this story is, it has a looong history.

Back in 2007 or 2008, I wrote a character-based story about cars, in which a boy was obsessed with toy cars. I had it critiqued by Elizabeth Law, and while she liked it, she had very good pointers on making it stronger. But she called out one scene in particular, where the boy was crashing his cars. She said, “You should think about also writing a story about crashing cars. But you’ll need to find just the right house.”

So, in 2009, I started a new project called CRASH!, which was exactly that: a smashing, crashing, shaking, braking story, set at a demolition derby. My agent, Jennifer Unter, started submitting it (in 2010) and we got a lot of interest! But it was getting rejected because there was ‘too much crashing’ or it was ‘a little too violent’. Well, yes, I wanted to say, have you ever been to a demolition derby? Alas, one editor asked for a revision to inject a main character car. And ‘small car’ was born. He won the whole derby, against all the odds. It was perfect! It was just what she wanted! And then they turned it down.

Jennifer and I agreed to put it aside for a while, which was fine with me.

Fast forward to 2015. As is my style, I pull this manuscript out again and try to rethink it. Maybe I just needed to take out some of the ‘more violent’ crashing language? I softened it up a little, (still called CRASH!) but I stayed true to the story arc of a small car ending victorious, just fewer bumps and bruises along the way. Jennifer started submitting it again and one editor (Sonali Fry at little bee THANK YOU SONALI) asked if I wouldn’t mind changing the theme from a demolition derby to something else.

As I always say, I’ll try! We talked about it, and both agreed that making it about a race instead, had great appeal. It didn’t change the story theme, just the setting, and I was able to keep so much of the text as-is because there’s still a lot of squealing and screeching, vrooming and swerving, and even conking and bonking that goes on in a race. And during this revision, I added a layer. In the end, (spoiler alert!) it’s revealed that a young boy is actually playing with his toy cars in his homemade backyard racecourse. So RACE! is now a real book—woot! My critique group still refers to this story as CRASH!, as do I sometimes, but RACE! is proof that in publishing, you can’t always rush to the finish line.

Maybe the sequel should be Slow and Steady?

Wow, what a long and winding road for RACE! Thanks for sharing the story behind the story, Sue. Also thanks for providing a copy for a giveaway!

To enter the giveaway, please leave one comment below. A winner will be randomly selected in a few weeks!

Good luck, RACING FANS!

And Happy 4th of July!

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
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Summer/Fall 2018

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